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Daughter Of The Empire

by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

Set in the world (or one of them, at least) of Feist's Riftwar, here a young girl is unwillingly thrust into a position of power and the political intrigue it involves as Feist and Wurts show us the details of Tsurani culture.  The story progresses well as Mara must first learn the rules of her role as Ruling Lady whilst surviving the depredations of her family's bitter enemies, House Minwanabi.  Later Mara has to use all her skill and inteligence to gather resources and warriors in order to make a stand against her enemies. 

This book is rather 'episodic' but doesn't suffer for the fact.  Each new threat or obstacle to be overcome leaves you hungry to find out how Mara and the Acoma can possibly survive and thrive, which means that you will eagerly read on. 

This brings me to my favourite element of the book; the cunning tactics and plots.  They are too numerous, intricate and clever to relate here but, for instance, you will be gobsmacked by the way that Mara engineers her hated husband's downfall.  I was worried that such convoluted political agendas would become boring and I wouldn't like the book, but the sheer brilliance of the authors' ideas soon dispelled my fears. 

This book isn't epic fantasy in the way that 'Magician' is, but is nevertheless the equal of the other Riftwar books.

5 out of 5

 

Day Of Vengeance

by Judd Winick & Bill Willingham

(Art by Ian Churchill, Norm Rapmund, Justiniano, Ron Wagner, Walden Wong, Livesay and Dexter Vines)

A part of the 'Countdown to Infinite Crisis' series.  In the first half of the story the chaotic spirit of vengeance Eclipso takes control of Superman and only Captain Marvel can stand against the monstrous combination.  I really enjoyed these two titans of the DC Universe slugging it out (almost as much as when Superman fights Wonder Woman in 'Superman: Sacrifice'). 

In the second half of the book Eclipso seduces the Spectre and together they undertake a quest to destroy all magic.  When the Spectre eliminates the most powerful magic users, only six magical beings, considered second-stringers, are prepared to make a stand; Blue Devil, Enchantress, Nightmaster, Nightshade, Detective Chimp and Ragman.  With the exception of Blue Devil, I'd never heard of these characters before, but I found them intriguing and a wonderfully diverse group.  Their conflicting characters and agendas, combined with their certainty that they have little hope of surviving, not to mention the amusing sexual tension between Enchantress and Ragman, means that they are a pleasure to read about.  And unlike Superman or Batman, you've no guarantees that they'll survive. 

Despite only getting back into DC stories recently, I really enjoyed this book, even if some of the backstory was lost on me.  Also, Detective Chimp is the best hero ever!

5 out of 5

 

Decimation: X-Men - The Day After

by Chris Claremont & Peter Milligan

(Art by Randy Green, Aaron Lopresti, Rob Hunter, Norm Rapmund, Don Hillsman III, Salvador Larroca, Danny Mikki, Allen Martinez, Avalon, Roger Cruz and Victor Olazaba)

The first book of the Decimation series, this book follows immediately on from the events of 'House Of M' by Brian Michael Bendis, in which the Scarlet Witch removed the powers of 99% of the world's mutants.  The X-Men are at the front of a desperate attempt to handle the fallout of this decimation, but are themselves hurt by the depowering of such friends as Polaris, Iceman and Jubilee. 

As anti-mutant terrorists attempt to finish off the 'survivors', a government-sanctioned squad of Sentinel arrives at the X-Mansion, supposedly to protect the X-Men.  These events comprise the first half of this book and make for great reading. 

However, the story then splits off to follow just Polaris and Havok as they leave the X-Men and travel to South America.  There then encounter a, frankly, ridiculous-looking alien, who doesn't really do anything and then the story abruptly stops.  This plotline was a massive downswing for the book and left me feeling unsatisfied and more than a little confused.  Its only redeeming feature was the rumbles of the return of Apocalypse.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Illegal Alien

by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry

Part of the Past Doctor Adventures series this book sees the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace travelling back in time to Second World War London.  They then become embroiled in a mystery involving a violent serial killer, fanatical military intelligence operatives, Nazi spies and the Doctor's old enemies the Cybermen.

Of the sixty-odd Doctor Who books I've read so far, I have to say that this is probably the best novel among them.  It starts off a bit shaky as we're introduced to a slightly cliched hard-drinking American private detective and his equally cliched disapproving police Chief Inspector antagonist.  However, despite the slow build, the scene setting is soon proved worthy as the Doctor and Ace turn up and immediately see there's more going on in 1940 London than the Blitz.

Which leads me to the authors' next masterstroke.  Had the bare bones of this story been set in any other timeframe it wouldn't have worked so well, but by setting when and where they do, Tucker and Perry add an edge of danger, paranoia and curious fatalism that pervades the entire book.  On top of that, the last third of the book steps things up a gear and we get to see the real world horror of the Nazis come face to face with horror of the Cybermen.

There are also some great well-developed characters here, with the detective and inspector of the beginning getting fleshed out far above their cliched start, military fanatics from both sides of the war and, best of all, a genius antagonist who plays very much like a Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes.  Through it all we also get some great representations of the Time Lord and Ace themselves.  She's every bit the headstrong in-too-deep type and the Seventh Doctor shows all of his compassion, brilliance and ruthless cunning.

5 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Loving The Alien

by Mike Tucker & Robery Perry

A Past Doctor Adventure which concludes Tucker and Perry's subseries, begun in 'Illegal Alien', starring the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace.  Having discovered Ace's murdered body from a future timeline, the Doctor takes the living Ace back to the 1950s in an attempt to thwart her murder.  However, the walls of reality begin to fracture when a British rocket test opens a gateway to a parallel dimension and the Doctor finds himself once more facing off against the amoral mastermind George Limb.

These authors write really good Who together and this book shows all of the maturity and complexity, both of plot and morality, which was so prevalent in the other books of this Seventh Doctor series-within-a-series.  So, overall, this is a very well-written book but it has to be said that there are a number of factors which combine to hold it back from the greatness of the likes of 'Illegal Alien'.

First and foremost, there is just too much crammed into this novel.  As readers we have to contend with Cold War paranoia, cybernetic experimentation, Ace's time-bending murder plot, giant killer ants, parallel worlds, Ace being a giant, James Dean being mysteriously resurrected and more.  It's just too much and the ending fails to round out all these plotlines in a way that feels natural and satisfactory.

There are also two elements that are more weird than bad, but nevertheless detract from the overall quality of the book.  The first is that elements of this book feel all too similar to the Cybermen two-parter from Series 2; what with the parallel world, the experiments into cyber-augmentation and even the fact that zeppelins are still in use there.  I mean, this book was published three years before the TV story aired, so it's not the authors' fault, but it still spoils things a bit.  The other thing is that although the story is set in 1950s London, almost all of the supporting cast, antagonists and protagonists alike, are American.  The private eye is American, the sassy reporter is American, the villain's bodyguard is American and the warmongering General is American.  I've nothing against Americans (unless they voted for Trump) but it seems really odd to have so few British characters in this story set in Britain.

The final problem with this book is that the characterisation of the Doctor and Ace is noticably off.  I imagine it's intended to reflect them having changed since their TV story days, but it just makes them feel unfamiliar.  I couldn't imagine either McCoy or Sophie Aldred saying their characters' dialogue from this book and that spoilt things a bit for me.  Also, whilst the Seventh Doctor is known for being a bit cold and ruthless at times, the scene at the beginning where he autopsies Ace's corpse whilst the still-living version of her is relaxing in the TARDIS' pool is too creepy for my taste (particularly considering he takes special note of the love bites on her breasts and the, quote, 'deeper evidence' that she had sex before she died).  It's just not what  I want from a Who story.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Matrix

by Robert Perry & Mike Tucker

A Past Doctor Adventure featuring the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace.  The Doctor and Ace return to 1963 to discover that history has gone awry and Britain has been rendered unrecognisable by the otherworldly influence of the spirit of Jack the Ripper.  Travelling back to 1888 to investigate, they find themselves caught up by a sinister power which seeks to unleash their darkest murderous impulses.

This book is a follow-up to both the authors' previous work 'Illegal Alien' and the TV story 'Survival' (novelised by Rona Munro), as well as featuring the return of an incredibly personal antagonist from the Sixth Doctor's tenure, so it's probably worth having some knowledge of those stories going in to this one.  If you didn't you might soon find yourself wondering "Why the hell is Ace turning into a cheetah?!".

Victorian London and, in particular, the brutal reign of Jack the Ripper is a very dark and evocative setting, which this book makes the most of, giving it a grim tone with fear threaded throughout.  I liked the fact that Ace finds herself adrift in this setting, without the Doctor for support and beginning to question who the Time Lord is on a fundamental level.  The circus 'freaks' she befriends are a nicely diverse and likeable group, whilst other characters like Jed and Malacroix provide street-level antagonists to keep things tense in the build up to the reveal of the dark power which is really behind everything.

At the beginning I was struggling to get into this book, but I have to say that it won me over and I was genuinely enthralled by the Doctor's confrontation with the villain (I'm trying very hard not to spoil it, because it's a very satisfying reveal to a long-term Who fan) in the final act.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time Omnibus

by Scott & David Tipton

(Art by Simon Fraser, Lee Sullivan, Mike Collins, Gary Erskine, Philip Bond, John Ridgway, Kev Hopgood, Roger Langridge, David Messina, Giorgia Sposito, Elna Casagrande, Silvia Califano, Matthew Dow Smith and Kelly Yates)

Released to celebrate Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary, this book features all eleven (up to that point) incarnations of the Doctor.  Across all of his lives, a mysterious figure has been kidnapping the Doctor's companions and the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has to locate and rescue them, with help from all of his previous incarnations.

I love a multi-Doctor story and was pleased to discover that 'The Day of the Doctor' (novelised by Steven Moffat) was not the only 50th Anniversary Special to have the Doctor work alongside his previous incarnations.  However, it has to be noted that this book reads more like an anthology for the most part, with each Doctor getting their own mini-adventure, and with the overarching plot only really coming together towards the very end.  As it turns out that overarching plot is the book's biggest disappointment, lacking the weight that the event really should have done.

Those individual adventures for the Doctors are brilliant though.  The authors have managed to achieve a rare thing in that each and every incarnation of the Doctor featured feels like they should.  All too often Who authors will write generic Doctor dialogue without managing to capture the fact that, although the same person, each Doctor is distinct from the others in their tone and mannerisms.  The Tiptons manage to write dialogue for the Doctors here in such a way that each incarnation is not only different but perfectly captures the feel of the Doctor in question.  Whilst reading it I really could imagine each of the actors delivering the lines.

On top of the spot-on depictions of the Doctors and the fun mini-adventures that each gets, we also get to see the return of some of the Doctor's most iconic antagonists, each of whom is also done justice, including the Zarbi, the Ice Warriors, the Judoon, the Rutans, the Sontarans, the Autons, the Dominators and the Master.  With so many famous baddies in the mix, I felt that the writers were wise to leave out the Daleks and the Cybermen, who could easily overpowered the others in the narrative.

Not perfect, but good fun.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Scratchman

by Tom Baker & James Goss

An adaption of an unproduced screenplay, originally by Baker and co-star Ian Marter, featuring the Fourth Doctor (Baker), Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan (Marter).  The TARDIS arrives on a gloomy Scottish island which is soon besieged by sinister scarecrows.  However there is a much darker power behind events, which will drag the Doctor and his companions into a hellish alternate dimension.

This book is divided into two halves and they couldn't be more different from one another.  The first half has the genuine feel of classic era Doctor Who, with a mist-shrouded island and shambling scarecrow monsters.  The second half is much more dreamlike and existential, with the Doctor passing through a world made out of fears and anxieties to face Scratchman, the devil himself.  I have no problem with either style of storytelling, but it has to be said that here they clash with each other very jarringly.  Although some elements pass from one half to the next, they don't really feel significantly connected and the book as a whole totally lacks cohesion.

Also, although as a fan of the likes of Neil Gaiman I'm no stranger to the weird and dreamlike storytelling featured in the second half, I have to say that for me it didn't work in a Doctor Who story.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that Who never tackled the supernatural or the afterlife before, but I can't think of it ever having been so blatant.  Even the episode where David Tennant also met the devil, it's still presented with an air of scepticism.

One element of the Doctor's travels through Scratchman's domain I did really enjoy was the way it lets the Fourth incarnation ponder his past selves and even have some brushes with future incarnations too.  One of them turns up again in the denoument and some might feel it's a little shoe-horned in, but I personally enjoyed the connection being made between Who's past and present.

Overall this would've been an unsual but also uneven Who story and nothing more if it weren't for one element that makes it worthwhile for long-term fans; Tom Baker.  Baker has always said that he based his incarnation of the Doctor largely upon his own ego (no surprise that Goss' name doesn't appear on the cover) and eccentricities, which means that here we get to read the Doctor's thoughts in first-person because Baker is the one man who can get inside the Fourth's head.  There are elements that are very clearly as much Tom Baker (including a taxi driver who says that he's 'my Doctor') as they are the Doctor, which adds a very meta feel to the narrative overall.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Seeing I

by Jonathan Blum & Kate Orman

Book twelve of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) Adventures.  The Doctor arrives on Ha'olam in search of his missing companion Sam Jones but soon finds himself imprisoned after discovering that a local corporation somehow seems to have access to Time Lord technology.  Meanwhile, Sam has made a new life for herself on Ha'olam working for social volunteering programmes that eventually lead her into conflict with the same corporation.  Separately and together again they must unravel the mystery and discover the identities of the I and the DOCTOR.

Whilst this is the fourth EDA book I've read, up until now I've never had a sure grasp on the Eighth Doctor as a character and certainly not on Sam as a companion.  This book fixes all that in one fell swoop.  The Doctor's character is put to the ultimate test by having him face his worst fear; stagnation and boredom.  I usually hate tedious imprisonment storylines but here it's the best way of bringing out the Doctor's true emotional state.  I have to say though that I did find his repeated failures and defeats and the despair that went with them was a lot less enjoyable to read than I like my Doctor Who stories to be.  Part of the fun of Who is that, no matter how bad things get, the Doctor just becomes more determined but at times that feeling was absent here.

Far more interesting, however, is just how much this book fleshed out Sam.  Taking place over the course of three years, we see Sam go from the starry-eyed teenager who was swept off her feet by the Doctor to (and pardon the cliche) a strong independent woman in her own right.  Her determination to fight the good fight in the hopes of achieving something greater than herself, of making a real difference, is a brilliant reflection of not only the influence the Doctor had on her but also the reason why, at the end of the book, she's a far better companion for him than she was before.  I also think that her being in love with the Doctor was handled very well; she knows on an intellectual level that it's impossible but that doesn't mean she's not still desperate to shag him.  It's a nicely mature take on the unrequited love situation and is handled much better than when they later tried the idea on the TV show (with Martha and the Tenth).

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: Supremacy Of The Cybermen

by Cavan Scott & George Mann

(Art by Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, Alessandro Vitti, Tazio Bettin, Dan Boultwood, Andrew Pepoy, Jason Millet, Mike Collins, Blair Shedd, Simone di Meo, Arianna Florean, Stephen Byrne, Simon Myers, Lee Sullivan, Luis Guerrero, Rachael Stott and Marcio Menys)

A special crossover event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Cybermen (back in 2016).  Across all of time the Cybermen suddenly begin to gain unprecedented victories and the Ninth (Christopher Ecclestone), Tenth (David Tennant) and Eleventh (Matt Smith) Doctors all find themselves in deadly peril in each of their respective timeframes.  Meanwhile, the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) returns to Gallifrey to seek out the cause of the Cybermen's sudden acquisition of power over time itself.

It's worth noting straight off that, although this is an anniversary crossover, it is not a multi-Doctor story.  The four incarnations primarily featured do not meet but, after having been disappointed by Paul Cornell's 'Four Doctors', I didn't mind that so much.  Instead what we get is a story where each of the Doctors has to hold their own 'temporal front' whilst the Twelfth tries to unravel the mess from the end of time itself.  Each of these story threads is perfectly enjoyable and the Doctors featured are done justice by the authors.  The Twelfth Doctor's righteous fury and scorn are particularly well handled, especially in his interactions with the returning antagonist who is behind the sudden rise of the Cybermen.

If I had one significant criticism it would simply be that I'm not familiar enough with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors' comics-based companions for their roles to feel particularly significant.  If you have followed their comics adventures, you'll have not such issues.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Devil Goblins From Neptune

by Keith Topping & Martin Day

The first Past Doctor Adventure, set during the era of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and featuring Liz Shaw, the Brigadier and UNIT.  Earth once again finds itself the target of hostile aliens but this time the Doctor and his colleagues at UNIT are hampered in their investigations by Cold War politics, traitors within UNIT itself and secret CIA operations.

I'll start by saying how much I hate the title of this book.  It's clearly meant to evoke old sci-fi B-movies and I was expecting the content of the book to have some wry or ironic point to justify such a cheesy title.  As it turns out, however, there really are devil goblins from Neptune and the fact that they're referred to as such totally undermines the serious threat that this new alien race is meant to represent.  The authors went for a cheap gag and instead made it harder to take the book's antagonists seriously.

I have to say that I also didn't like how hard this book leans into the 70s setting.  Not only do we get some really unsubtle attempts to establish the timeframe of the book, like in scenes where people just list music popular in 1970, but the authors also make hippies, acid trips and the Cold War big elements to the story.  I may be misremembering, but I honestly can't recall the Cold War ever being a part of the Pertwee era TV stories.  Doctor Who, whilst rooted in its times, for me has always transcended the eras in which it has been made.  There's occasional allegory, of course, but never anything that so blatantly tries to pin the Doctor down with the real-world politics of the time in the way that this book does.  This is at its worst here when we're shown the extreme and sinister lengths the CIA will go to to achieve there aims.  Now, I'm sure the real CIA wouldn't hesitate to assassinate allied soldiers if it suited their designs, but to include it here just feels cynical.  In fact, an overwhelming feeling of cynicism is what spoiled this book for me.  It's just not what I want from Doctor Who.

This isn't really a bad book, but it just didn't feel in keeping with the derring-do style of the Third Doctor's screen adventures and that tonal dissonance meant that I just couldn't enjoy it.  Also, that title...

2 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor - Vol 1: Gaze Of The Medusa

by Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby

(Art by Brian Williamson)

An adventure in which the Doctor (the Tom Baker version) and his companion Sarah-Jane encounter a time-travelling alien plot in Victorian London.

The plot of this book is fairly standard Doctor Who fare, with alien henchmen, a misguided villain and an alien menace lurking behind it all. 

Where it excels, however, is in its absolutely spot-on depiction of the iconic Fourth Doctor.  Williamson's art perfectly captures Tom Baker's idiosyncratic look but, more than that, the writers themselves have done a brilliant job of bringing his tone, charm and innate Tom Bakerness to life.  To a lesser extent this is also true of Elizabeth Sladen's performance as Sarah-Jane Smith.

No Fourth Doctor fan will go far wrong with this book, even if the Doctor's characterisation does exceed the actual plot in terms of quality.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Hollow Men

by Keith Topping & Martin Day

A Past Doctor Adventure featuring the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace.  The Doctor takes Ace to the Wiltshire village of Hexen Bridge which has supposedly been cursed for centuries.  There an alien power is rising and driving the inhabitants into acts of hatred and violence, forcing the Doctor to finally intervene.

This is a sort-of sequel to a classic Who TV story of Peter Davison's time; 'The Awakening', but having not seen that episode or (so far) read its novelisation, I can't say just how much this book is influenced by it or how much carries through from it.  There are also links to a Jon Pertwee-era story but, similarly, I don't know the extent because I'm unfamiliar with it.

Of the 160-odd Doctor Who novels I've read at this point, this one is by far the most pure-horror story, with horror and graphic violence throughout.  That sounds like the kind of warning you get at the beginning of a TV show but I feel it has to be noted.  If you like the Doctor's light-hearted adventures, then this book is definitely not for you.  Truth be told, although I'm not averse to a bit of horror, I did find this book a fair bit darker than I tend to like my Who stories.  I think what makes it more uncomfortable than usual is that the worst of what goes on is very real human-instigated horror, with the animated scarecrows (seen on the cover) paling in comparison.

As well as being a bit darker than I would've liked, this book's endgame feels rushed and confusing.  Worse than that is the weird supernatural turn it takes, which comes out of nowhere and actually feels like a bit of a betrayal of the realistic horror of what had been going on up to that point.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension - Book One

by George Mann, Cavan Scott & Nick Abadzis

(Art by Rachael Stott, Adriana Melo, Cris Bolson, Mariano Laclaustra, Carlos Cabrera, Leandro Casco and I. N. J. Culbard)

Mysterious white holes are appearing across space and time and those that aren't sucked into them find themselves in the grip of virus-like possession.  Encountering familiar faces from their past the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors all work to unravel this new mystery.

Crossover events are a comics mainstay and, given the way the TV show's anniversary specials worked, the Doctor Who franchise has a lot of potential in that it can crossover the ongoing series of the various incarnations of the adventuring Time Lord.  This means that we get numerous scenes which give us temporal encounters that fans could have only dreamed of before.  Among these is seeing Jenny (the Doctor's daughter from David Tennant's tenure) encounter the Fifth and Twelfth Doctors; the Second Doctor voicing his approval of the Eleventh's bow tie; and, my personal favourite, seeing Christopher Ecclestone's Ninth Doctor embark on an adventure with Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, the Victorian detectives (sadly no Strax though).

Whilst the things mentioned above are just cool elements, there are two parts of this book which genuinely expand important Who lore.  The first is the story of what happened to Jenny in the immediate aftermath of her only TV appearance in 'The Doctor's Daughter'.  Given the connection the actress who played her, Georgia Moffett, has to the series (she's the daughter of Peter Davison and the wife of David Tennant) I really enjoyed seeing the character's further adventures.

The other, far more significant, addition to Who lore comes when the Eleventh Doctor accidentally breaks through into the time-locked ancient history of Gallifrey.  He discovers Gallifreyan civilisation in its early days, when time capsules (not yet even called TARDISes) are a brand new technology.  The background to the TV series has always references three great founders of Time Lord society; Omega, Rassilon and the Other.  Here we get to see a shiny new statue of the disappeared Omega (see the tenth anniversary special 'The Three Doctors', novelised by Terrance Dicks, to find out where he went), get to see Rassilon in charge of Gallifrey and, most remarkably, find out details of the Other which have only previously been hinted at.

Now, it would be true to say that this book feels very fragmented and of varying quality; in particular the part which focuses on the Tenth Doctor was a bit of a low point.  However, as an introduction to this special event it works very well.  I would definitely recommend making sure you have the conclusion in Book Two on hand though, since this one doesn't stand alone.

4 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension - Book Two

by Gordon Rennie, Emma Beeby, George Mann &  Cavan Scott

(Art (Art by Ivan Rodriguez, Wellington Diaz, Rachael Stott, Mariano Laclaustra, Anderson Cabral, Marcelo Salaza and Fer Centurion)

The dimensional disturbances caused by the white holes appearing across the universe increase and when one threatens to envelop the Earth, the Ninth, Tenth and Twelfth Doctors decide to fly into the heart of it.  Inside the Void they have to join forces with their other incarnations in order to end the threat and restore time and space.

The blurb to this book says that the Fourth Doctor and River Song are crucial to these events and that's where this book begins.  Unfortunately, rather than what would've been a fascinating crossover between Tom Baker's iconic incarnation of the Doctor and Alex Kingston's mischievious and sexy time-travelling archaeologist, their stories are completely separate.  There's one where the Fourth Doctor and Romana encounter versions of old foes from alternate universes and there's one where River encounters a mysterious Silurian colony.  On top of not being a crossover, neither of these stories turn out to be the least significant to the overall Lost Dimension storyline.  They really let the book as a whole down, spoiling the great lead-in set up by the previous book.

Things improve greatly once we're returned to the main storyline and I found myself thoroughly enjoying seeing the Ecclestone, Tennant and Capaldi Doctors interact.  Between the Twelfth's grumpiness, the Ninth's sarcasm and the Tenth's boyish enthusiam, we get some pure Who gold.

The conclusion to the book is a little rushed really, after all the build-up, but it does at least give us a double page spread of all of the incarnations of the Doctor (minus the Eighth, who remains on Earth with Jenny and the various companions) working together for the first time.

A brilliant crossover, massively tarnished by the irrelevant interludes at the beginning.

3 out of 5

 

Doctor Who: The Story Of Martha

by Dan Abnett, David Roden, Steve Lockley, Paul Lewis, Robert Shearman & Simon Jowett

Set between the final two episodes of Series 3, 'The Sound of Drums' and 'Last of the Time Lords', this book chronicles Martha Jones' adventures as she travels the Earth for a whole year on behalf of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in opposition to the Master, who has conquered the planet with the cybernetic Toclafane.

First off I would very much like to applaud the concept of this book.  Expanding on a gap between two major episodes of the TV series, Martha's ongoing story is written by Abnett but within it she tells stories of her adventures with the Doctor to the oppressed and (literally) decimated human race and those stories are the bits written by the other authors.  A sort of anthology within a novel, which I felt was a great idea.

Unfortunately, the finished product turns out to be rather lacking.  The stories within the story are all fine but are unable to ever develop to any great depth or quality and having so much of a not-overly-long book dedicated to flashbacks means that there's not a lot of space left for Martha's titular story.  And that story itself is plagued with problems, including the unremitting bleakness of it, the lack of time spent on any one part of her journey and a sadly underdeveloped villain in the form of Griffin, the man the Master sends to hunt Martha down.

Also, because of the nature of the story's setting, there's is next to nothing of the Master and, having loved John Simm's portrayal, that was a real shame.  I did get very excited about halfway through the book when it looked like a beloved character from the classic era of Who was about to make an appearance, but it turned out to be a, frankly cynical, fake-out.  This was particularly galling because, in a time period we know is subsequently erased from history (the year that never was), there is absolutely nothing that you couldn't do with a familiar character, knowing that it wouldn't contradict canon in any way.  Very disappointing.

2 out of 5

 

Dracula The Un-Dead

by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

The first Dracula story endorsed by the Stoker family (Dacre is Bram Stoker's great grand-nephew) since the classic 1931 Bela Lugosi film.  Twenty five years have passed since the events of 'Dracula' and Quincy Harker, son of Jonathan and Mina, abandons the career chosen for him by his father in order to become an actor.  He meets the charismatic Romanian actor Basarab, setting in motion events which reveal the dark secrets in his family's past.  All the while, those who thought they had killed the vampire Count quarter of a century earlier are hunted down and killed one by one.

It's pretty hard to start unpacking this book, particularly since I'm a life-long fan of the original 'Dracula'.  I suppose it's only fair to start by saying that this isn't the terrible, unreadable book that some have called it.  It is, in essence, a perfectly adequate schlock-horror novel in the vein (pardon the pun) of the vampire movies of the 80s and 90s.  If all you're looking for is a bit of vampire-based entertainment, then this book will fill the role nicely.

Where this book goes horribly awry is in all the pretensions of what it tries and claims to be.  The cover has the words 'The official sequel' and Dacre Stoker's name plastered all over it, but you get a definite sense that Holt wrote the story and then just needed the Stoker name as its unique selling point.  In fact, the notes in the back of the book explictly state that Holt had written a Dracula sequel as a screenplay before signing Stoker on to 'co-write' the novel instead.

The problem is that where the authors claim that the purpose of this novel is to 'set right' all the injustices done to the original novel by a century in the public domain (due to clerical error when Bram registered the copyright), they actually seem to have very little respect for the source material themselves.  Anything from Bram's novel that they found inconvenient or not fitting with modern expectations, they have blatantly changed or just discarded.  Worse for me, however, was that this book is one long character assassination of the main players of the original story.  Each of the heroes of 'Dracula' gets thoroughly dragged through the mud with Seward being an insane drug addict, Jonathan being a whoring drunk, Arthur being suicidal and unlikable, Mina being a reckless nymphomanic and, worst of all, what the authors do to Van Helsing (I won't spoil it, but it is totally against everything the is character is and stands for).  You genuinely get no feeling that Dacre or Holt hold Bram's novel or characters in any particular esteem and they go so far as to have Bram appear as a character just so Dracula himself can tell the author just how bad his writing is.

As for the new elements that the authors bring to the story of Dracula, they just seem totally lacking in any depth or complexity.  The most egregious example of this is the fact that Countess Elizabeth Bathory is a major character and the only justification I could find was that Bathory is almost as famous as Vlad the Impaler, so why not have her be a vampire in the same story as him.  But they don't stop there and cram in unnecessary links to Jack the Ripper and the Titanic too.  Where Bram used hints, clues and innuendo to build his story, these authors just skip any sense of subtlety and go straight for the violence, gore and sex.

Had this just been a vampire story set in 1912 it would've been fine, but the fact that it deliberately trades off of Bram Stoker's name and pretends to have anything to do with the far superior original 'Dracula' makes it feel more like an insult to Bram's legacy, not to mention to the fans themselves.

2 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of A Fallen Sun

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The first book of the War of Souls trilogy.  Forty years after the Chaos War (in 'Dragons Of Summer Flame') the gods have abandoned Krynn and dragons rule the continent, each jealously guarding its holdings and its magical power.  However, the rise of Mina, a follower of a mysterious Nameless God is about to throw the balance of power into disarray.

In this book Weis and Hickman present us with a much darker and more depressing Krynn, where our beloved heroes are all either failures or dead.  Sadly, for me, this premise is exactly where the book starts going wrong.  What I loved about the Dragonlance Chronicles was that, for all the dark forboding, there was still hope and light in the world of Krynn.  Here however, that just doesn't feel like the case.

In addition to the unnecesarily depressing tone, the ever-increasing time gap between the classic stories and these ones has reached the point where it no longer feels like the continuation of the same story.  'The Second Generation' and '...Summer Flame' managed to find the right balance between familiarity and the onward march of time, but here that balance has been completely lost.

Overall, whilst the authors' talent for prose remains true, the story on offer here is not half as compelling as their previous works.

Followed by 'Dragons of a Lost Star'.

2 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of A Lost Star

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The second book of the War of Souls trilogy.  Picking up where the first book left off, here the Elven nations of Silvanesti and Qualinesti are each targeted by the forces of evil and Mina continues her mission of conquest in the name of the One God.  Meanwhile, Palin, Tasselhoff, Dalamar and Goldmoon all seek answers to the mystery of the listless presence of the souls of the dead.

I found it fairly hard to get through this book for the main reason that the vast majority of the characters, even beloved ones from the older Dragonlance stories, are essentially unlikeable here.  This was highlighted by the fact that, for the first time, I actually realised that Tas is a genuinely awful character.  His self-deception and irritating personality traits have been long-running in-jokes but here they simply made me hate him and hate every scene which featured him.

On top of the unlikeable characters was the fact that the stories of the two Elven nations run so parallel to each other that it wasn't until the last third of the book that I actually sorted out in my mind which events and characters were in which place.  It would've been better if the authors had focused on one or the other, rather than fudging the two stories together so much that I found it hard to care about either.

However, a certain amount of redemption was gained by the book in the fantastic conclusion of the Qualinesti storyline, wherein one of the Heroes of the Lance has to face down one of the Great Dragons who have been holding Krynn under their control.

One final down note, though, is the fact that the revelation of the identity of the One God will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Dragonlance books this far.

Followed by 'Dragons of a Vanished Moon'.

3 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of A Vanished Moon

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The conclusion to the War of Souls trilogy.  With the One God's true identity revealed, the heroes who would oppose her rule search desperately for a means of thwarting her ever-growing power.

This is by far the best of the three books of this series largely due to having a clearly defined villain.  As a reader, we can finally get behind the various main characters in their struggle against the One God by having her evil clearly revealed to (almost) everyone.  The moral ambiguity of the previous books seriously hampered the mythic quality of the storytelling which is so integral to the better Dragonlance books.  Also, the characters themselves become alot more decisive and proactive here than they have been previously, which makes for a much better pace for the narrative.

Despite being the best book of the trilogy, that's actually not exactly high praise and this book is also held back by some pretty serious flaws.  The first of which is that it's just too damn long; a better book could have been made by trimming the story in half.  Also, as with the preceding two books, much of the tone in this book is depressing.  It is balanced by some significant victories for the forces of good, but it has to be said that the majority of this book features the protagonists being defeated, outwitted and, in some cases, killed.  On top of all this, I was annoyed to find that, rather than getting a truly satisfactory ending to the story, the book ends on what is more or less just an advert for the next trilogy, the Minotaur Wars.

3 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of Autumn Twilight

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The first book of the now-famous Dragonlance Chronicles has a band of veteran heroes gathering after many years separated in search of the old gods. 

The fact that most of characters already know one another is a refreshing change from the fantasy norm, as is the fact that they already have many adventures behind them.  It is the fact that the characters are veterans that makes them particularly interesting, because you get to see how years of struggle have affected them, either making them bitter or perhaps merely cynical. 

The story itself pings around from one place to another for little or no reason, but I forgive it that fault simply because the authors focus so much attention on establishing their characters and giving them depth.  As with most first books of a fantasy series, this one's aim is to set the tone of the time period and hint at immanent catastrophe.  In that role, this book works perfectly as the mysterious Draconians begin to fill the land and darkness creeps all around. 

Finally, this book is worth reading if only for the excellent comic relief provided by Tasselhoff the Kender and the senile wizard Fizban.

4 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of Spring Dawning

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

The third book in the Dragonlance Chronicles.  The story is divided between the two separated groups of characters at first and is made interesting by the Laurana/Tanis/Kitiara love triangle with which we know that Tanis and Laurana are meant for each other, but the characters themselves are plagued by self-doubt and ignorance of the others' feelings. 

The two groups become one again, following a pointless and poorly written interlude beneath the sea which ends in a deus ex machina that manages to get the heroes halfway across the continent instantly.  The Fellowship, sorry, 'the Companions', then have to set out to the heart of enemy territory to rescue Laurana.  The death of one of the main characters is handled without half the skill as the death in the previous book and basically, minutes after he's snuffed it, his best mates pull up their socks and just carry on regardless. 

The confrontation in the throne room at Neraka is the best element of this book, where once again we as readers are torn apart by the Laurana/Tanis/Kitiara situation as Kitiara discovers where her lover's true loyalties lie, Tanis has to live a lie whilst being desparate to admit the truth to his beloved and Laurana's loss of innocence is completed by Tanis' betrayal. 

The ending is a severe anticlimax and, rather than ringing with hope or that feeling of 'journey's end', you're left with a feeling of 'now I'm supposed to buy another load of books to see what happens next'.  Most irritating, that lack of closure.  All in all, this book is a disappointment when compared to its excellent predecessors (it's not even saved by the wonderfully menacing Lord Soth).

2 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of Summer Flame

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

A stand-alone bridge novel set between the Dragonlance Chronicles and the War of Souls trilogy.  The Greygem, the powerful but difficult magic stone that you might remember from 'The Second Generation', is broken open, unleashing the father of the gods, Chaos.  Meanwhile, the reorganised armies of Takhisis are once again battling against the people of Ansalon, but this time their superior discipline is winning them victory after victory. 

Three young heroes are destined to face Chaos with the world in the balance.  Palin, Caramon and Tika's son, must come to the mastery of his powers and confront the legacy of his uncle Raistlin.  Steel, son of Kitiara and Sturm, has to struggle with his sense of honour and the concept of abetting the enemy.  Finally Usha, who may or may not be Raistlin's daughter, is cast out by the Irda who raised her and has to find her way in a strange world riven by war. 

This is another excellently written mini-epic from Weis and Hickman and makes a great follow up to both the Chronicles series and 'The Second Generation'.  Its scope, as all the peoples of Ansalon unite against the threat of Chaos, is such that it spawned an entire subseries set within the timeframe of the book, the Chaos War series.  Definitely worth reading.

4 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: Dragons Of Winter Night

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

This second book of the Dragonlance Chronicles continues and even improves upon the high quality of writing shown in the previous volume.  The heroes of the first book are separated by battle and must travel very different paths in search of the dragon orbs, magical devices that could turn the tide of war against the overwhelming dragonarmies. 

Each of the characters continues to develop in their own way with the advancement of Laurana, Tasselhoff and Sturm being most noteworthy.  Laurana, separated from her beloved Tanis, must shake off her childish vanity and abandon her place in elven society in order to lead her friends in doing what must be done.  Tasselhoff, following the trend of Tolkien's Hobbits, proves that although small and foolish, he can also make decisions better than some of the greatest of leaders.  Sturm's hopes and dreams of becoming a Knight are severely tried by the emnity between him and leading Solamnic Knight Derek Crownguard, however, in the end it is Sturm who proves the more noble and more selfless. 

The introduction of Kitiara and her new, dubious, profession adds tension to the interpersonal relationships and the return of Fizban is very welcome (look out for a subtle revelation about the wizard's true identity too!). 

There are two downsides to this book.  The first is that there a gaping story gaps, obviously told in other Dragonlance publications, that are pretty much glossed over; the quest to Icewall being the worst offender.  The other, minor, problem is the references to the heroes as 'the Companions', when you know the authors are just dying to say 'the Fellowship'.

5 out of 5

 

Dragonlance: The Second Generation

by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

This is a series of short stories that bridge the generation gap between the Dragonlance Chronicles and 'Dragons of Summer Flame'.  Once again, Weis and Hickman's prose makes easy but compelling reading as they pay equal attention to setting tone and presenting characters. 

Once more, it is with their characters that the authors excel, presenting a new generation of heroes that are much like the Companions of the Chronicles but each with a subtle twist.  For instance Steel is much like Sturm but a Sturm who has been seduced by darkness.  Caramon's sons Tanin and Sturm have the elements of his character divided between them and then there is the third son, Palin, who is much like Raistlin but who does not give in to his dark ambitions.  Finally there is Tanis and his son Gilthanas.  Each refuses to see the other's worth as they become embroiled in a plot to divide the elven nations, despite the fact that they are much alike. 

Character development and prose aside, I would recommend this book solely for the story "Wanna Bet?" which involves a gambling-adicted god, a bizarre Gnome ship (the design of which makes a terrifying kind of sense) and the three sons of Caramon.  It's exciting, funny and very surprising.

4 out of 5